President Obama Urges Congress to Move Forward on Health Care Reform

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In an address before a joint session of Congress, on Wednesday, September 9, President Barack Obama urged lawmakers to put aside partisan rancor and come together to help finalize a bipartisan health care solution. "The time for bickering is over," the president said. "The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action. Now is when we must bring the best ideas of both parties together and show the American people that we can still do what we were sent here to do."

President Obama noted that the current health care system, plagued by rising costs and a lack of access for those who are out of work, takes a special toll on small businesses.

"We spend one-and-a-half times more per person on health care than any other country, but we aren't any healthier for it," Obama said. "This is one of the reasons that insurance premiums have gone up three times faster than wages," he noted, adding "it's why so many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot afford to open a business in the first place, and why American businesses that compete internationally, like our automakers, are at a huge disadvantage."

The president explained that his health care reform proposals, if enacted, would not require anyone to change the health insurance they currently have. And for those who do not have health insurance "this plan will finally offer you quality, affordable choices," he stated. "If you lose your job or you change your job, you'll be able to get coverage. If you strike out on your own and start a small business, you'll be able to get coverage. We'll do this by creating a new insurance exchange, a marketplace where individuals and small businesses will be able to shop for health insurance at competitive prices."

Moreover, Obama added: "Now, for those individuals and small businesses who still can't afford the lower-priced insurance available in the exchange, we'll provide tax credits, the size of which will be based on your need."

Under the president's plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance and businesses will be required to either offer their workers health care, or chip in to help cover the cost of their workers. However, there will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still can't afford coverage, and, the president said, "Ninety-five percent of all small businesses, because of their size and narrow profit margin, would be exempt from these requirements."

In response to critics who oppose a "public option," fearing it would do away with free-market competition, Obama stressed his desire for choice and competition. However, in many states, there isn't much choice or competition, he explained. "In 34 states, 75 percent of the insurance market is controlled by five or fewer companies. In Alabama, almost 90 percent [of the market] is controlled by just one company. And without competition, the price of insurance goes up and quality goes down. And it makes it easier for insurance companies to treat their customers badly -- by cherry-picking the healthiest individuals and trying to drop the sickest; by overcharging small businesses who have no leverage; and by jacking up rates." Obama also noted that the public option would not be subsidized by taxpayer money, but by the premiums it collects.

In the Republican response to the president's address, Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) stressed that his party agrees with the president that health care reform is needed. However, he expressed disappointment that the president did not take "government-run" health care off the table and argued that the current plan creates an unwieldy bureaucracy. Instead, he noted that part of the solution could be found in offering Associated Health Plans. "Let's also talk about letting families and businesses buy insurance across state lines." --David Grogan